Casual thoughts about Against the Day

Bits and pieces as they come into my head; not even in any special order. This’ll be a rolling post, so I’ll add to it from time to time.

Big, overall point: it’s great fun.

1) Wish it didn’t say ‘a novel’ on the front. I’ve had a go at Zadie Smith about that.

2) Nice epigraph

3) Tetris jokes! This is why it takes him so long.

4) Makes me sad – vision of freedom, a possible America, enlightened anarchism; we live in world of the enemy.

5) Too big to lug around almost. In this case, a three-vol. set would be nice.

6) Is Pynchon unfashionable? There seems less fuss about this than M&D. I’m avoiding the reviews, so I’m not sure, but it feels less of an event. Has some of the mystery gone? He’s appeared on the Simpsons and a lot of information has circulated on the Internet, and his essays and introductions are freely available – has that done it? Or is it the stupidising ray that’s hit culture? People might no longer feel obliged to pay attn to a literary happening – in a fragmented world, major works cease to exist and can be left to the fan club. People don’t feel obliged to read a thousand pages when a Hornby will tell them it’s okay just to crack on with the latest Anne Tyler. I look at the prose, invention & energy of this work and still don’t feel there’s anyone to touch him: don’t deny yourselves pleasure!

7) Actually, this is probably still point 6. Does it have something to do with dominance of plot-and-character bourgeois fiction? That’s what Z. Smith and J. Franzen offer, while rhetorically occupying hi-literary territory; that sort of developing self-conscious middle-class ‘breathing’ (Forster’s ’rounded’) character isn’t quite where P’s at (though character is there at the centre – see the ‘Slow Learner’ preface; maybe it’s they don’t develop in the expected literary way) . I don’t really care. It’s probably the biggest point of criticism, but I really don’t think that mode is the most interesting thing to be reading – like looking in a mirror. Narcissistic gratification. Interiority, obsessiveness of Pynchon’s characters can also seem more real than the sketches of social actors & retreads of literary marriage tropes in most lit fiction.

8) Alchemy and outlaws. Jim Dodge territory.

9) Time travel, geometry, dimensions and √-1. Has Pynchon been reading Crowley’s ‘Great Work of Time’ – current champion of the ‘literary SF secret history grounded in a nineteenth century a cousin to our own’ genre, but finally meeting its match w/ ATD – or is there simply a common source?

10) Note on previous point. I am not going to use the word ‘Steampunk’. I just don’t think it’s helpful

11) What’s with characters (Lew, Hunter) slipping into the off-grid part of town? Same as geometry-arctic vs. africa-chaos? What about explosives vs. deep holes? And I guess this is one of the big questions: what is the light? It’s everywhere in the novel – transforming, polarised, the sun… Also dynamite/fire. GR territory.

12) The apocalyptic aspect: revelation or destruction? (yeah yeah, apocalypse lit = revelation, go smoke it somewhere else)

13) Is ‘the day’ of the title also the system, & the book a deliberate gesture against this, demonstrating the possibility of writing against the norms and rules of systematised capitalism? Against what seems necessary? I honestly don’t know yet.

14) Perhaps I shouldn’t just be letting random thoughts spill out in public as I read.

15) Attempt to redeem a radical possible past, like Vineland’s an attempt to redeem/know a lost moment of potential freedom.

16) Reviewers must have been racing to read this. Uncool. Deserves long attention.

17) There’s a fair bit of Warlock in here. Maybe it’s more general cowboy stuff, but you’d guess it’s his old favourite. How long has he been sitting on this? Also Cormac McCarthy Blood Meridian mystic Western slipping in there.

18) Artists who enjoy the world as list and like the multifarious – likely to be dismissed as shallow by the literature=philosophy + aspartame reader?

19) That pleasant stoner-surrealist humour in Pynchon – much more likeable than Robbins et al. Likely to piss off those who demand high seriousness (though it can evade attention for a long time)

20) The Western sections more like Vineland than other work: sympathetic leads, little real craziness, sens of good, evil, betrayal (terribly sad Vineland, I always thought)